Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why Not 4th Edition?

This past Friday marked the first time in many years I was actually able to sit around the table and play some good old fashioned AD&D (although that is somewhat subjective considering we played 2e).  I was quite surprised by the turnout as we had seven players in total.  I'll have more on the adventure we ran in a later post here.  Two of the people who joined us are a married couple.  I have played DnD on occasion with the husband, and he was brought up playing 2e even though he is a few years younger than the rest of our group.  He and his wife have recently been playing 4th edition, and they seem to really enjoy the system. 
During one of our breaks early in the adventure, his wife, who has recently just started playing the game entirely, and has started with 4th edition, posed the question to me; why are you playing an older edition?  Why not try 4th edition?  I found myself in a somewhat awkward position in trying to answer this question for several reasons.  First of all, I have no experience playing either 3rd, 3.5, or 4th edition.  After seeing how they watered down the rules (even further from 2e) in these later editions, and completely changed most of the system in general in 4th edition, I just felt it was nothing I wanted to try to experience.  Second, how do you explain the problems you have with these editions without insulting the person asking the question?  Again, I have said this before on this blog, but I have no problem with anyone playing these later editions if that's what they enjoy.  Yet here I have a relative newbie to the game in general asking me why I'm not using 4th edition.  What I wanted to tell her was simply, the game that is currently sold as Dungeons and Dragons is DnD in name alone, and nothing more. 
I wanted to tread carefully with the question because when you knock the edition they play, especially if it's the only one they are familiar with, they may suddenly feel as if their intelligence has been insulted.  I could rail on for hours about the various reasons I dislike the newer editions (completely changing the rules, making it more suitable for munchkins, the addition of cash grabs like "fortune cards," the fact that their sourcebooks for their settings are some of the worst products for the money I've ever seen in the RPG market, etc.).  And while I could do this, I was talking to a person who actually enjoys the edition.  So, the only thing I really could tell her was, wait and see why I enjoy the older versions so much more.  My reasoning was I'm going to show as a DM, rather than tell, what it is that makes the older editions so much greater.
As the game went on, the PC's deviated from the somewhat loosely structured plan I had for the adventure (which is par for the course naturally), and some of the decisions they made along the way weren't helping matters or aiding them in getting anywhere in the quest they'd agreed to partake upon.  As the game ended for the night, however, I felt confident that she and her husband both enjoyed the session, and I expect to see them back when we play next month.  I'm not quite sure if it's really sunk in for her why the older editions are actually better, but I'm hoping that in time, she'll understand what makes them so great.


  1. Well played, IMO. Kid gloves and a nice shiny carrot work better with new players.

  2. Thanks, and yes, I agree. I didn't want to be rude, but it took a lot not to go on a rant about the problems I have with 4th edition in general. At the same time, despite having read through the rules, and researched the changes, I have yet to play the version myself, and would feel bad going on about it having not played it yet.

    In 4th edition, the encounters are always balanced to the party's level, and of course that goes against everything in 1e and 2e really, where there truly isn't such a thing. I think she took notice in how the veterans in the group approached the situations they were faced with, even turning to flee before the encounter came into fruition, which I will detail in a later post. This seemed a foreign concept to her, but I think or at least hope, she understood that these guys approach each situation with a high level of caution because they never know what's on the other side of that door, and it very well could be an enemy more than capable of killing them, especially considering this particular mission they were on. Whereas in 4th edition, you know you are capable of victory in just about every encounter because its "balanced," this is not the case in old school games.

  3. You handled it well. Showing is better than telling, and the best reply to "Why aren't you playing the game I play?" is "I just like this one better. Let me show you..."

  4. I run a 4E game, and my encounters are never balanced. Some are easy, and some are incredibly dangerous. I threw that whole balanced encounters suggestion right out the window. It makes no sense that the world around the PCs would be set to a offer level-appropriate challenges. My players never assume they will be victorious; what would be the point of playing the game if it doesn't have you on the edge of your seat?

  5. @Tequila - Thanks. I'm still not really sure if our style of play is really something that she will enjoy considering her entry into the hobby was 4e, but she was a good player at the table and I'd gladly welcome her back.

    @Sully - It has never made any sense to me either, but I think the fact that encounters in 4e are often scaled are simply a neon sign for munchkins that says "play me!" And if that's what they want as players, so be it. Unfortunately I don't cater to that attitude in my games. It's good to hear you don't either. I'm sure there are plenty of DMs running 4e with your same mindset. For me, it's simply the fact that the mechanics have changed so much from the original game all in all, that it no longer represents DnD to me. It's simply a different RPG using the DnD name. But again, if you enjoy it, that's great. Play what you enjoy, I say.

  6. I think the obsession with 'balance' comes from a misunderstanding of 'challenge'.

    There are two models of challenge that you see in games: Force the use of a set amount of a resource per decision is one. It's the easiest one to understand. Paradoxically, it's the hardest one to pull off.

    The second model of challenge allows the player to set the difficulty. The easiest way to see this in action is to look at Nethack: Compare the difficulty of the Valkyrie and the Tourist. Challenge is for the player to decide.

    They both have consequences in world-building: the first ensures that the players always have a chance in a contest. The second eschews that for ensuring that the players always have interesting decisions.